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A Tale for the Time Being Paperback – 11 Mar 2013

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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd; Main edition (11 Mar. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0857867970
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857867971
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (260 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,503 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Bewitching, intelligent and heartbreaking . . . Nao is an inspired narrator and her quest to tell her great grandmother's story, to connect with her past and with the larger world, is both aching and true. Ozeki is one of my favorite novelists and here she is at her absolute best (Junot Díaz)

A Tale for the Time Being is a timeless story. Ruth Ozeki beautifully renders not only the devastation of the collision between man and the natural world, but also the often miraculous results of it. She is a deeply intelligent and humane writer who offers her insights with a grace that beguiles. I truly love this novel (Alice Sebold)

This is one of the most deeply moving and thought-provoking novels I have read in a long time. In precise and luminous prose, Ozeki captures both the sweep and detail of our shared humanity, moving seamlessly between Nao's story and our own (Madeline Miller author of THE SONG OF ACHILLES)

Ingenious and touching, A Tale for the Time Being is also highly readable. And interesting: the contrast of cultures is especially well done (Philip Pullman)

A beautifully interwoven novel about magic and loss and the incomprehensible threads that connect our lives. I just finished it, and loved it (Elizabeth Gilbert author of EAT, PRAY, LOVE)

A Tale for the Time Being is a downright miraculous book that will captivate you from the very first page. Profoundly original, with authentic, touching characters and grand, encompassing themes, Ruth Ozeki proves that truly great stories - like this one - can both deepen our understanding of self and remind us of our shared humanity (Deborah Harkness author of A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES)

There is far too much to say about this remarkable and ambitious book in a few sentences. This is for real and not just another hyped-up blurb. A Tale For the Time Being is a great achievement, and it is the work of a writer at the height of her powers. Ruth Ozeki has not only reinvigorated the novel itself, the form, but she's given us the tried and true, deep and essential pleasure of characters who we love and who matter (Jane Hamilton author of A MAP OF THE WORLD)

A Tale for the Time Being is equal parts mystery and meditation. The mystery is a compulsive, gritty page-turner. The meditation -- on time and memory, on the oceanic movement of history, on impermanence and uncertainty, but also resilience and bravery - is deep and gorgeous and wise. A completely satisfying, continually surprising, wholly remarkable achievement, this is a book to be read and reread (Karen Joy Fowler author of THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB)

Funny, heartbreaking, moving and profound... The warmth, compassion, wisdom and insight with which Ozeki pieces all these stories together will have the reader linked in a similarly profound way to this fantastic novel (Doug Johnstone Independent)

Ozeki explores what it means to be human in this moment, right now (Nao). Her novel is saturated with love, ideas and compassion. In short, an absolute treat (Lucy Atkins The Sunday Times)

Packed with philosophical asides about time, and is unexpectedly moving (Kate Saunders The Times)

A huge, compassionate and cleverly wrought novel (Natasha Lehrer TLS)

This novel on belonging and time is a triumph (The Sunday Times)

A Chinese box of a novel (Claire Allfree Metro)

Dualities, overlaps, time shifts and coincidences are the currents that move A Tale for the Time Being... Even the book's title shimmers and shifts shape upon study (The New York Times)

A compelling coming-of-age story (Sunday Telegraph)

A story saturated with love, ideas and compassion (The Sunday Times best books to read this summer)

Part fantasy, part mystery, part page-turner (Sam Baker Harper Bazaar)

As emotionally engaging as it is ­intellectually provocative (Washington Post)

Ruth Ozeki's wonderful, intricate novel encompasses both global catastrophe and tiny human potentialities... It is enough to say that this is a novel of subtlety and delicacy which is, above all, a celebration of our shared humanity and an affirmation of the myriad possibilities we all carry within us (New Internationalist)

A sheer work of brilliance (More2Read)

[This] could revolutionise our reading habits (David Robinson The Scotsman)

Ozeki masterfully develops the two parallel stories, creating a virtual dialogue between the blocked writer and the diarist, who confides, "I'm reaching forward through time to touch you" (Washington Post)

Masterfully woven. Entwining Japanese language with WWII history, pop culture with Proust, Zen with quantum mechanics, Ozeki alternates between the voices of two women to produce a spellbinding tale (O, Oprah Magazine)

This is a book which will absorb you from the very beginning and which will stay with you long after you have finished reading it (Spalding Guardian)

An ingenious, multi-layered novel that, quite possibly because of those layers, works on so many levels - thrilling us, magicking us, prompting us to pause and reflect... A Tale For The Time Being, her third and finest novel yet, is in a league all of its own (Malcolm Forbes the National 2013-03-20)

A Tale For The Time Being defies synopsis. It incorporates a Zen Buddhist view of the world into the philosophical entanglements and whimsies of Schrodinger and the physicist Hugh Everett. It is playful, amused ad amusing and it pulls off a beautiful ending that might have been trite, but instead is triste. Four hundred pages seems just the right length (Tom Adair The Scotsman)

The pleasure of this book is the way in which, with its inclusive references to everything, from history to quantum physics, Buddhist practices to literary theory, Silicon Valley to Japanese temples, it stretches the boundaries of the novel while managing to remain intensely readable (Diana Hendry The Spectator)

Nao is one of the most sharply realised narrative voices in recent memory, a kind of Holden Caulfield for today... Ozeki can pluck at the heart strings like a samisen, offering moments that bring hand to mouth in both horror and joy (Sydney Sunday Herald)

Nao is an irresistible character: inquisitive, funny and world weary but heartbreakingly vulnerable... A Tale for the Time Being achieves an impressive balancing act: it's a book that is profound but never earnest (Weekend Australian)

Ozeki's real skill is in blending concept and story so beautifully. The result is a novel that is clever on many levels but also immensely readable (New Zealand Herald on Sunday)

An exquisite novel: funny, tragic, hard-edged and ethereal at once (Los Angeles Times)

In Nao, Ozeki draws an unforgettable character (The Globe and Mail)

Ruth Ozeki's enchanting A Tale for the Time Being is a must-read (Good Housekeeping)

Sure to please anyone who values a good story broadened with intellectual vigour (Publishers Weekly)

It is a novel for all ages and Ozeki defies time by openly confronting it (Irish Times)

A culture-crossing network of yarns in the vein of Haruki Murakami or his sort-of-disciple, David Mitchell (Boyd Tonkin Independent)

It will stay with the reader well after the next few Booker longlists have come and gone (Literary Review)

An example of fiction's ability to highlight pertinent issues in the real world (New Statesman)

A pacy yarn that's enlivened by its evocative, and brilliantly described, settings (Daily Mail)

A complete triumph (Stylist)

This is a beautifully-written story with even the least important character fully formed . . . The separate but linked tales of Ruth and Nao are gripping (and the teenager's diary eerily authentic). Both Japan and Canada are described with great beauty. This book should win and I'd be thrilled if it did (Country Life)

Book Description

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2013

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

90 of 98 people found the following review helpful By Curiosity Killed The Bookworm TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 9 Mar. 2013
Format: Paperback
A package containing a diary washes up on the Canadian coast. It is found by Ruth, a writer who lives on Vancouver Island with her husband Oliver and their cat, Pesto (formerly known as Schrödinger). As she starts to read she uncovers the sad and lonely life of a Japanese schoolgirl, Nao. Does Nao exist beyond the pages of the diary and can Ruth find out who she really was?

A Tale for the Time Being is a wonderful, wonderful book that felt oddly rewarding to read. Spanning continents and time, it weaves together Zen, quantum physics and French philosophy into multiple narratives of heartbreak and touching moments of joy.

If that sounds a bit too high brow, Nao's diary has a genuine teenage narrative voice (if you can accept for a moment that teenagers can write full sentences). She writes in English as she spent most of her childhood in California before the dot com bubble burst and her father lost his job. On their return to Tokyo, Nao is the victim of relentless bullying at school as she is the Transfer Student. Whilst she seems to take things in her stride, with a conversational tone and at times witty comments, she is clearly struggling with depression. On top of which, her father has not been the same since he returned to Japan and she hates him for it but he is just as lost as she is.

Nao's diary is not just about her, although her story is heartbreaking and at times shocking. She also tells us about her grandmother, Jiko, a Zen Buddhist nun who claims to be 104 (perhaps the very definition of a time being) and her great-uncle who was a kamikaze pilot. The diary was also bound up with letters written in kanji and a small journal written in French, which Ruth must decipher. She also reveals some of the more unsavoury aspects of Japanese culture.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Rolo TOP 500 REVIEWER on 24 Nov. 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Ruth, a Japanese-American novelist and her eco-artist partner Oliver live on Vancouver Island. They discover a package washed up on the shore that contains, among other artefacts, the diary of Nao, a young Japanese girl, written on the pages of an old copy of Proust's À la Recherche du Temps Perdu. A Tale For Time Being alternates between Nao's story and Ruth and Oliver's. Nao is a lively but troubled girl who was schooled in America but returned to Japan, and her story reveals her struggles against bullying at school, her suicidal father, the lessons learnt with her ageing Zen Buddhist great-grandmother and the discovery of her family's past. Nao's story starts as a fairly light tale but becomes increasingly and surprisingly dark with scenes of abuse, torture and prostitution, the Kamikazi pilots of the second world war and the shadows cast by 9/11 and the tsunami of 2004.

To give more of the story away would be unfair to future readers, but the themes covered include ecology, religion, death, time, honour and quantum mechanics and the process of story-telling itself. It is an intriguing tale and one can't help being reminded of Murakami.
However, reading other reviews here, I seem to be in the minority when I say I found this story disappointing and the writing rather flat and dull. Ruth and Oliver never come alive and I had little sympathy for them - Oliver is a particularly irritating character and, for writing that aims to entrance, I found the descriptions of place and character very mundane. I had more engagement with Nao's story (particularly its insights into the peculiarities of Japanese culture) but her voice never rang quite true for me either.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By M. Dowden HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 7 April 2013
Format: Paperback
A big thank you must go to Philip at my local bookshop, he had just read this at the time and due to his enthusiasm I bought a copy, otherwise this book would probably just have passed me by. Ruth Ozeki's novel is truly wonderful, it pulls you in and holds you as you work your way through it and become involved in the tale. I should point out that this is complex and takes in many subjects and emotions, but this adds to the fascinating story that you end up reading.

On the surface this is the tale of a woman, Ruth, living on a small island in Canada finding a bag washed up on shore containing books and a watch. The bag belongs to a Japanese schoolgirl, but how did it end up washed up on the island shore, and when was it written? One of the books is a handwritten journal in French for example, but the main journal is in Japanese, written by schoolgirl Nao. Nao is going to write about her 104 year old great gran, but of course she ends up writing more about herself and her family, especially her father. For a start, right there you are reading about the relationship between an author and a reader, something that happens each time we read a book. We read about Ruth's feelings as she reads and her wanting to know more, whilst we also read Nao's words, which gives us a massive insight into the Japan of today.

Into this story though big topics are incorporated, nature, our relationship with nature, technology, bullying, perversions, depression, suicide, science, culture and culture shock, philosophy, Zen Buddhism, and history, there are many other things. As you can see this book challenges you to a certain extent, but don't be put off.
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